“Zidisha will start giving milk from next month”

More updates from our Client Relationship Manager, Achintya:

On 9th Feb 2012 I paid a visit to Serah Wanjiku Mukuriah at her home and Shamba (farm). Serah works at the Mugaa Secondary School as a secretary (many people affectionately call her ‘Madam Secretary’) and also takes care of her farm and animals.

I was a little startled when she said to me “Zidisha will start giving milk from next month”. I later found out that Zidisha is the name of her cow. With her first Zidisha loan Serah started a photocopying business. The business didn’t do too well so she sold the machine and bought Zidisha. With her current loan she has bought a plot near the highway. She intends to build on this plot and rent out the premises.


I am always curious about the ages of people here, because they never look their age, but I avoided asking Serah about hers because she’s a lady. Then she told me that she has only four years left to retire and that she will shift to her new plot after retirement. I couldn’t resist asking her age and was surprised to find that she is 52. Serah is a little bundle of energy. We walked from her home to the school together (it’s a 40 minute up and downhill walk) and she literally floated. She is also one of the pleasantest persons I have met here. She is always smiling (I think what helps is that she is not a teacher in the school and thus doesn’t need to scare the children) and comes across as very warm and generous (on the way back she kept asking me if she were walking too fast for me).

Two of Serah’s daughters stay with her with their children and Serah takes care of them and the children’s school fees. Serah has studied till form four but her daughters have only finished primary school due to certain constraints. Serah understands the importance of education and wants her grand children to finish their education.

It is a sort of tradition that Serah hosts all Zidisha interns at her home and I am happy that I could pay her a visit. I wish her all the luck and happiness. 

On Sunday (19th Feb 2012) I went to Rongai to meet Samuel Njoroge Njenga. Samuel runs a guesthouse in Rongai. He currently has 13 rentable rooms. He charges 300 to 400 Kenyan Shillings per night (depending on the day of the week and size of the room) for his rooms. He used his Zidisha loan to buy- a water tank, PVC flooring for the rooms, tables, bed sheets and mosquito nets. He also painted his rooms and bought plywood that he will use in the future to prepare more rooms to rent. 

Samuel feels that the better the facilities he provides, the more clients he will get. Business is good and he plans to pay off his loan in four months (instead of twelve) and apply for another one, which he will use to develop more rooms, improve the bathrooms and perhaps even develop some rooms with attached baths (the current setup has common bathrooms).

I found Samuel to be a very extrovert and charming person. When I met him he was dressed in loose jeans and a red sweatshirt. He is supremely confident and walks a little like a rapper. Samuel is 28 and is married. He’s the first person I have met in Kenya who is married and has just one kid, and I did not hide the fact that I was very happy to know this. His wife works for a private company and his two-year-old son will start going to school in a year or two. 

Samuel inherited the place from his father, who used to rent out the rooms. Samuel decided that the guesthouse business was better than giving out rooms for long term rent and improved the place and turned it into a guesthouse. He says that the returns from the property have doubled since he started this business. 

Samuel has a diploma in computer repairs and he does computer maintenance as a part time business. We talked about the importance of IT education in today’s world and Samuel told me he has a computer at home and intends to teach his son about computers from the very beginning. I feel very strongly that the level of education in Kenya is very good and there is a great potential for it to become an IT hub. I have great hopes for Shakur’s (Samuel’s son) future.

I also met Samuel’s 20-year-old brother who is studying Mass Communication and is a smart looking fellow with a great hairstyle. 

Donkeys, Goats, & "The Mattress Doctor"

Two more updates from Achintya, our intern in Kenya:

Edward Waithaka
On 8th Feb I went to meet Edward Waithaka at his home and Shamba (farm). Edward works as a watchman in Mugaa Secondary School where I was putting up. With his first Zidisha loan he bought a donkey. I asked him what the donkey’s name was and he said “Geneva”. I said “I’m sorry what?” He replied “Geneva, like the one in Europe”. Edward did not complete his schooling and has studied till form one.

During the 2007-08 post-election violence Edward had to sell most of his flock of sheep and goats at very low prices. He, like most people in the village, sent his wife and children away during the conflict. The Zidisha loan helped him get back on his feet. He uses the donkey to fetch water for his Shamba and his family. He also invested part of the loan to build the roof of his house.

With the second loan he bought a goat, which later gave birth to a little baby goat (called Toto, which means ‘a baby’). Edward has 11 children, 6 of whom stay with him. The youngest is 9 months old. The milk from the goat is just sufficient for his family but he intends to buy a cow with his next loan. He expects that by then he’d have 4 goats and sufficient milk to sell in the market. I learnt from him that goat’s milk is costlier than cow’s in Kenya. I remember reading that Gandhi called goat the “poor man’s cow”. Apparently not so in Kenya.


Edward works as a night watchman in the school and he was utterly fascinated by my torch, which does not need a battery but can be charged by rotating a small lever on its side. He told me that he spends on 4 batteries every month for his torch so I have promised to give him my torch before I left Kenya.

Ironically Geneva, as if realizing I was from Zidisha, was very happy to see me (he overturned like a beetle and gave himself a nice rub in the mud right in front of me) but Edward’s little son was not (he bawled and ran away from me)- pictures of both attached. I found Edward to be a very simple hearted and genuine person, free from any guile. I’d love to see him employ his Zidisha funds in gainful uses and improve his lot.
Read more about Edward here 

James Nuthu Mwangi Yesterday I went to meet James Nuthu Mwangi at his business premises. James runs a cleaning business, specializing in cleaning mattresses. His business is called ‘The Mattress Doctor’. He and his cousin, who is an insurance agent, share the premises to cut down on the rent. James found Zidisha on his own. He went to a bank for a loan but the bank asked for a guarantor, a running business with stable profits and an interest rate of 13% to 15%. He then searched online and found a famous lending organization that referred him to a local micro-finance organization (which the famous lending organization funded). This local organization asked him to open an account with them and other complicated formalities and demanded a MONTHLY interest rate of 2% for their loans. In simple interest terms, that totals to an interest rate of more than 26% per year. With the next loan James wants to buy a bigger vacuum cleaner because the one he has right now is, though good for cleaning mattresses and sofas, not very useful for general cleaning. James persevered in his search still, and he found Zidisha. 


Today James is one of the strongest advocates of Zidisha and volunteers for us. He is also the de-facto coordinator of Zidisha activities in Nairobi. James used his first Zidisha loan to buy a steam machine and to design and print flyers that he used for marketing his business. When I asked him how he learnt to clean, he said “through the internet!” and proceeded to show me a bundle of downloaded literature on cleaning. When one of my professors said that Internet would democratize information (this was in 1999-2000), I did not expect it to manifest like this. After finishing school James did a course in programming and later used these skills to design his business website which I found to be quite interesting, informative and easy to maneuver.

Bright green is a color that Zidisha clients seem to prefer. The bicycle that James uses to commute to nearby areas for his business is the same bright green color as the pickup truck of another client I met recently. His bike is also the first geared bicycle I’ve seen in Kenya (the gears don’t work anymore though).

Check out James’ Zidisha page to learn more

"Hello" & "Thanks" from Around the World

Here are some recent posts from Zidisha borrowers:
“Good morning to everybody,
I have indeed received the money that I have asked for, I was able to buy the cart as I have said before and now three young men are selling with me. I am very happy with the promptness my file has been handled and the money was available to me. I’d like to thank all the lenders who has answered to my request and hope from all my heart that I will not disappoint them. Thank you also for your encouragements. I talked about the system of Zidisha to other people who has shown interest but were often blocked by the question of Internet or they have never been getting a loan. I’d like to thank you very much.” – Hadamou Bonzi 

“Greetings good people.Business is in good condition.” – John Mwathi

“HALLO ALL;’ thankyou zidisha people for all your support am hoping and waiting for my loan thahkyou all in advance” – Daniel Mungai 

“hallo there zidisha people i hope everything is fine there . here paul is fine in my business as usual hoping all thing will go as god plan it i have seen milacle in the busineses of the people who have already got their money from zidisha their bussines is doing fine ;;may god bless you all as you go on with my biding and leding me your money THANKYOU ALL” – Paul Mwangi 

“thank you to all Zidisha lenders. I did receive all the loan and on Saturday I went to Nakuru town to buy more items for business. My business is now fully stocked and I have already introduced many new clothes for my customers. We are experiencing a dry season and its very hot and dusty here. All in all we are used to this kind of season. Blessed to you all Zidisha team.” – Mercy Njeri

“After recieving the loan Ahmadi went to the place for small fish sales. Part of the money bought new fish and fish food, the hope is that in 3 months he can already begin to harvest the product. Sorry if this news is late because since beginning activity Ahmadi has been so busy with his cultivating schedule and also his crafting job that Ahmadi has to finish. Several of Ahmadi’s friends are enthusiastic about the zidisha program, because there are friend’s of his that want to open their own business. They have already joined training at the Tiara Foundation of Work Growth. Thank you Zidisha.” – Received from Ibu Titik Winarti, director of Tiara Institution where Mr Ahmadi works

“Hi Zidisha, I am Abraham Mwangi from Kiptangwanyi Nakuru kenya am very greatful to Zidisha organization.I didnt understand the importance of comments but am grateful because one of the Zidisha team Member visited me at my premises here at Kiptangwanyi trading center where my business is located on 2nd Feb on 2012. Since i was the 1st person to receive the loan from Zidisha in this area most of community members has now joined the organization am sure i understand 90% of them. For the 1st time i had a problem with my repayment schedule but now am okay. Am holding several projects since the fuel and spair business is learnt by my wife Veronica. Am having a transportation project which am learning here at Kitagwanyi with my own car. Am planning to get the 2nd loan which i will use it by starting a new project of dairy cows for the production of milk. The half of the amount i will add more stock to serve more customers. The project will help my family with milk and also selling to Brookside company, Am very grateful to Zidisha.” – Abraham Mwangi

“thank you all of you for your generous bidding towards my loan” – Daniel Maina“I very greatfull to Zidisha your webb site software is very perfect i just paid my loan installment and it was update in less than 12 hour and I can access the information from my account to confirm payment well done Zidisha youare very efficient.” – Gladys Kagunda

Photographs & Farmers

To keep interest rates low for borrowers, Zidisha eliminates the middleman and relies on hardworking volunteers and interns. To find out about opening positions, click here. Our Client Relationship Interns work diligently to connect with borrowers and bring lenders up-to-date about them. Here are more posts from Achintya in Kenya:

Andrew Mbugua 
I visited the business premises of Andrew Chege Mbugua.
Andrew runs the business of instant pictures. He has a desktop computer, a digital camera, a printer and also a small photocopying machine. Most of his clients come to him to get instant passport sized photographs, which they had to get from Nakuru earlier. Andrew’s printer cannot print beyond small sized photographs and he feels that there is a potential demand in Kiptangwanyi and nearby areas for larger photographs (family photographs for example)

He wants to invest the loan money in either buying a bigger printer, or replacing the old one before it breaks down (last time it broke down, it was three months before he could get a new one). He also wants to buy what he calls a “state of the art” camera. This would cost him 20,000 to 25,000 shillings. Always a businessman, Andrew offered to exchange his camera with mine (which has lesser megapixels than his, but is green and sits in a red cover which perhaps made him think it was better than his). I said “sure, as soon as you get your state of the art camera”. There was general laughter at this (there were many people who had collected to watch the discussion/interview)

Of all the people I have met here, Andrew is the first one who has been to college (even though I must add that the general level of education in rural Kenya is exceptionally good). His wife is a teacher. He wants his kids to study even further than him and do well in their lives.

As a last note I’d like to add that it is hard to believe that Andrew is 35 and has 2 kids. He doesn’t look a day beyond 25 (when I told him this, he was quite delighted-I guess a little vanity finds us all some time or the other) 


To read more about Andrew, check out his profile page!   

Paul Ngugi   

Two things I observed about Paul- first, Paul is truly ambitious (this seems true for many Zidisha clients). He wants to go places, and looking at his energy (he starts his day at 6 in the morning, working on his piece of land till noon, whereafter he takes care of his shop, while also finding time to graze his animals, visit Miti-Mingi or Nakuru to buy supplies and act as a de facto Zidisha coordinator), I have no doubt he will.

Second- Paul has practical, doable ideas about how he wants to go there. He used his Zidisha loans for his shop and to buy large quantities of grains from farmers, which he sells to traders from the towns. He was also able to buy a piece of land and construct rooms, which he now rents. 

His plan now is to make a cattle-shed where he can provide food to his animals in the enclosure, without the hassle of taking them grazing. He wants to use his next Zidisha loan to buy ‘high quality’ cows. Not speculating and trying to exploit season shifts in grain prices, he appears to have solid plans based on data. For example, he plans to sell the milk to the Milk Cooperatives who pay a better price (around 4 shillings more per liter) and also guarantee purchase.


I was able to meet his three sons, his mother (who is also a Zidisha client), his aunt and his two donkeys (Toto and Kijana). Everyone smiled for the camera (except the two donkeys, who turned their faces away in disdain at human frivolities) 


To read comments from Paul and older reports from interns, head over to his page!  

Turning Zidisha Loans into Medical Supplies

Client Relationship volunteer Maguette recently met up with Combé Thiaw in Senegal. Her business entails buying medical supplies to sell to clinics and hospitals around Dakar. Here is an update about her:

Combé is ethnically Diolla, one of the well-known ethnic groups in Senegal. She is originally from the southern part of Senegal, called the Casamance. She is 32 years old. She is single and the mother of a 5-year-old boy who is in kindergarten. Combé works in the administrative section of the Chifa Clinic in Sacré Coeur 1 [a neighborhood in Dakar] where she works as a management assistant (issuing invoices, photocopying, etc). The clinic is relatively young and opened in 2010.

She sells medical equipment to medical offices, hospitals and other clinics. These supplies include IV drips, syringes, urine bags, probes, sutures, compresses, and more, pretty much everything that hospitals use. In this cold season, clinics are not very active. In fact, hospitals are busiest during the rainy season because malaria cases are prevalent.


She has a stock of two million products and has the advantage that the medical supplies are not perishable. She does not have time constraints regarding her clinic work because she is not under a contact. She is not paid a salary at the clinic because she works there just to help some old friends. She sells for orders 30 days after delivery, but in many cases, it is 60 to 90 days after delivery. This is because the clinics work with the IPM. Her main clients are: Blue Cross Clinic, Rady Clinic, Madeleine Clinic, and the Clinic of Mamelles. The supplier is Delta Medical. She regulates the cash of suppliers, and that is why the gaps in cash flow are often felt.


The loan from Zidisha has had a positive impact on Combé’s financial situation. It has indeed allowed her to better meet her daily expenses like paying rent, paying the housekeeper, transportation (taxi or public transportation), her son’s education and other small personal expenses. The monthly profit from her business is 400,000 to 500,000 CFA [about 800 to 1000 US dollars]. After having deducted her expenses from her earnings, she buys goods which she keeps in her apartment’s stockroom. Her house also has two bedrooms, a living room, a kitchen, and a bathroom.



Combé holds a license (Bac + 3) as an executive assistant. However, she has repeatedly refused a salary of more than 200,000 [working as an assistant] because according to her, her small business is more interesting than the salary of an executive assistant.


She hopes to continue her collaboration with Zidisha because she finds that the loans are very accessible. According to her, “Zidisha is exceptional”. 

To read more posts from interns about this entrepreneur, or to hear from Combé herself, check out her Zidisha page.

"This moment from my heart"

Recently, because of upcoming elections, there have been riots and demonstrations throughout Senegal. A Senegalese Zidisha borrower, Alassane Diop, posted about the unfolding drama on his Zidisha page. Here are his comments since January:

With the consent of the director I would like to talk about the uniqueness of my region. You should know that Ziguinchor is the victim of a rebellion called MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance). This rebellion has been around for almost 30 years and now people criticize and denounce it but it is still there. They are mostly in remote areas and attack people traveling—they rob cars and make all the passengers get out to steal their goods. The unfortunate ones are killed in cold blood. After these actions the rebellion returns to the bush. It is in this atmosphere that I still live. I’ve seen a lot of people killed, houses burned, women raped, and people who are taken away and never return…I’m not afraid to say that this is a way for me to denounce the rebellion that has made us endure suffering and losses, a way for me to share my troubles with anyone who wants to hear it. When I was a student, I wrote to the President to let him know that we need peace, not to destroy this beautiful natural region. There are clashes between the army and the MFDC (Movement of Democratic Forces in the Casamance). There are talks and plans to stop the conflict, but the MFDC remains. 


Because of the presence of rebels on the road, everyone wanted to travel by boat to Dakar and that is why a boat called the Diola overloaded and capsized on September 26, 2002. I don’t know if you heard on the news, but there were more than 2000 deaths and only around 60 survivors. As you can see, it is awful. Traveling by airplane is best but it is also the most expensive.
Have you heard about Senegalese people who take canoes to go to Spain? Hundreds of thousands of young people have lost their lives at sea. All of this has a direct impact on my work, because as you all know, everywhere I go, I am a witness to all of this awfulness. 

I am a young person who believes in myself. I am not tempted by foolishness; I make a living by the sweat of my brow. This comment is like a drop of water in the ocean.

Thank you for sharing with me this moment from my heart.

Regarding my previous comments, the situation here at home has not changed, and in this moment we are living in a very tense situation. I am doing my batik in between students throwing stones who have been on strike since October and police with teargas. 

In fact, it is a fierce battle between students and government forces, to the point where a student was killed by a bullet. It is because the presidential elections are in a few months so nothing works. All sectors have been on a strike against the government because of the cost of living, imagine that today there is not transportation, no bread, no fish—everyone is on strike because the cost of gasoline is too expensive, the professors are also on a strike for months because they have not been paid.


I am writing all of this quickly because I am doing many things at once. I will take the time to tell you all about the tranquility, also the sides that are not negative. Ziguinchor is a beautiful region full of live, it is paradise on earth. I am telling you all, I am showing you all, and now you all know.

In my place, it has been very tense for a few weeks because of the presidential elections that will happen within a few weeks. This caused demonstrations during whose houses have been burnt, cars have been destroyed and some people has passed away. To face this situation, I don’t want to take risks for now. Then, everything will be back to normal and I will transfer the money quietly. It’s not my first loan and I know I will have to pay even more.

I am talking about the situation in my country, you can also ask others borrowers who are from Senegal.

At my place, it is very tense, especially at Ziguinchor where I live.

Regarding the presidential elections, the whole population is rebelling against a third term of president Abdoulaye Wade who is 86 years old. Can you imagine? He is the oldest president in the world.

He had written on the constitution that his term would have stopped in 2012 but, a few months before the elections, he says he is candidate. So, he is breaking the constitution of Senegal.
However, his candidacy has been accepted by the constitutional council that he elected himself, so, because they are all friends of him, they could only accept his candidacy. They are 5 magistrates to whom he offered 5 millions and cars: This is pure bribery.

That is why there has been an uprising of the population. The USA, France and the EU have all said that he must let the country move on to the next generation, but he is still stubborn
Senegal is mismanaged, life is too expensive and people do not eat enough–that’s leading to the loss of our values, and that encourages young people to take a boat to Spain, which is practically a suicide.

Things that costed 10F a few years ago, now costs 250F. The old women who sells peanuts in front of her home, she needs 500 F to feed her children and she pays 200F per day for taxes, when are her children going to starve?

No sector is functional. For example, the education’s budget represents 40 % of the total country budget but, let me say to you all, there are empty schools this year. Indeed, since October, the pupils have not studied fully during a month; there are strikes every time. Teachers goes on strike because they don’t get their salaries, the new graduated students (from high school) are not orientated to universities. However, our aging president says 40% of the budget goes to this sector.
Besides, in my region in the South, it’s even more complex, because there are rebel infiltrations during riots of the people. That explains why people are dying–the police are shooting with real bullets. That’s why, madam Zidisha director, I can’t go out every time I want. The only way to contact you is with my phone so, I don’t want to lose it.

The particularity of the southern regions is geographical and cultural. You must know this region is bordered by Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, the Republic of Guinea, and the atlantic ocean at west. Every ethnic group from the subregion and from west Africa is present. So, the cultural diversity is very strong. It is a wild and green area. The nature gives us all. But, today the conflict made its own enclosure: every zinguinchorois on the same line is fighting for a definitive peace in order to give back the smile and the real identity to the Casamance, to make people stop starving, to make justice be done, to stop the sacrifices of youth, to create jobs, no more mines, that everyone can do their activities quietly.

PS: The entire Senegal says thanks to the USA and to the EU to have dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s with our president who is soon to be 100 years old.

Thank you for sharing with me the troubles of my place.
EDIT: Another update from Mr. Diop, 02/16/2012The electoral campaign started a week ago. The candidates are going everywhere with their thousand supporters but their arrival in Ziguinchor is a major problem because of the rebels presence around here. This past Saturday, the President came in the south of our region but in a helicopter. I never saw in my whole life so much military and law enforcement personnel. The scene in front of me was just like a country at war. The phone lines were down, nobody could dial out or receive any calls and I could not take any picture for fear of being taken. The President ‘campaign lasted few hours only.

On the other side, there was shooting amongst the rebel’s army. Cases of fraud make the front page with the military vote that is going to occur this Saturday and Sunday. There will be no vote counting as the ballots will be kept until the night of February 26th. The military vote has been imposed by the President Wade but the Senegalese army has always been neutral. Their priority is to protect the population.

The president injected more money in the military budget. The military is sent in different missions in the countries at wars and after each mission they received approximately 3 million dollars.
The school year is invalid. Since the beginning of school year the students did not have any grades or test or evaluations. It’s been four months that they are not in school.

Everywhere tires are being burned, the traffic is intense and impossible to beat. We are constantly breathing the smoke of bursting grenades. The army does not hesitate to shoot in the crowd.

To come back on the subject of “Daniel” Youssou Ndour has not been validated by the constitutional council. They are saying that he did not pay his taxes and did not present 12 000 signatures which is totally false. He is definitely a menace to the president popularity. He is on the movement side and he is sick and tired of the M23 movement.

The first movement is consisting on a citizen who is patriotic and wants a system change agreeing on freedom and democracy. The second movement is to march against the law to elect 25% of the suffrage. In the entire country we usually elect at 51%

I hear some noise outside, it is getting dangerous. I need to leave it is safer. Talk to you later.
“Viva la democracy”



To read more about Alassane’s experience and his batik business, check out his profile here 
To learn more about Senegal’s current situation, check out this BBC news report or this CNN article.

Achintya in Kenya

Our intern Achintya is currently in Kenya! This is one of his recent blog posts, titled “Second Week with Zidisha”:

It’s the end of the second week, so I’m back to write about the things that happened and things that I underwent this week. In the course of this discourse you’ll hear me talk about the shrill cow, about business upstream and downstream, about the panga, about pineapple Fanta, about three year old stalkers and about nyama choma and hungry masais, not necessarily in that order.

This week I visited the little village of Mitimingi nearby. I was fortunate to get a lift from the ex-counselor of this area, in whose 4-wheel drive car I had a luxurious journey down. The roads here being what they are, the ex-counselor spent one full minute laughing when I said that the drive was a punishment for his car, all the while shaking his head and repeating “punishment for the car”. I guess the concept of employing punishment on an inanimate object is a peculiar one. Inanimate by definition means lifeless, unresponsive and what’s the fun in punishing something that doesn’t respond? It’s like having Steven Seagal as your psychiatrist.

In Mitimingi, Baba Joshua proposed that we try Nyama Choma, which literally means Roast Meat. Metaphorically too that is exactly what it means. So, after some discussion on our appetites (there were three of us) I decide to buy a kilogram of goat meat. At the meat shop, the boy (he looked quite young, 18-19 maybe, but in these parts you can never tell the age of a person, just like you can never tell the expression on Steven Seagal’s face) took out this huge sword like curved knife to cut the meat. Now those who know me will be able to predict quite easily what I did at this point in our story. I asked her name. I mean the knife’s. Her name was “Panga”. So I asked where I could get one and Baba Joshua promised to get me one in Mugaa (which he did by the way, the same evening. Of course I followed up on and pestered him).

After about an hour, the Nyama Choma was ready. We sat down around it with a few chapatis and dug in. That’s when Baba Joshua told me about the Masais. The Masais slaughter a goat and then they Nyama its Choma (or Choma its Nyama- I always get confused which is roast and which is meat) and then 2 or 3 Masai warriors sit around, like us, with their own knives, unlike us, and finish the whole goat, very very unlike us. Either goat is the name of a fish or three means a larger number in Swahili. I mean three guys eating a goat, in one meal! Come-on! How much time do they spend in the loo each day?

The next day I walked to the village of Kiptangwanyi. I don’t know how far it is, but I walked for two hours, up and down hills, with rubble like roads. Paul my friend and comrade, instead of encouraging me kept telling me stories of Lauren, the first intern here in Kenya. He told me how she could run all the way up. While I barely crawled. He told me how she got up at 6 in the morning for a jog to Mitimingi. While I wake up at 8.30 and jog my memory to remember where I’d kept the tissue roll. But I smiled in my mind and thought “but can she do 200 pushups?” Actually, I can’t either, but so can’t Steven Seagal, and what’s good enough for Steven Seagal not to do is good enough for me not to do as well! But frankly, my respects to Lauren. That trek killed me and I bow to anyone who could do it easily.

On the way, we crossed this small river. It was a beautiful seasonal stream, with clear water and the cool smell of freshness around it. We crossed it at a place where the stones were big enough to jut out of the water. Paul told me that the water was good enough to drink. I was quite thirsty and shoved my hands in the water and was about to drink it when I saw 2 cows, 2 meters upstream from where I was, doing their business right in the middle of the stream. It was an awkward situation, with my hands full of water and Paul encouraging me- “drink, drink drink!” I excused myself by saying that I wasn’t thirsty, and then went on to extract my water bottle from my bag to have a drink. I consider myself an amateur Anthony Bourdain aspirant, but it’s one thing to try frog’s legs arrayed around a ball of aromatic rice or to relish the tongue, cheek and brain of a baby cow served with crunchy French baget or to suck the jelly out of a beautifully cooked and exotically served fish’s eye, but to drink water being graced by a cow’s holiness right in front of your eyes…

On the way back, we stopped at Paul’s shop. That’s when I tried pineapple Fanta for the first time in my life. My excuse- I was so thirsty I couldn’t think straight. No I’m just kidding. It was quite good. I never saw a pineapple soft drink in India. I never drank a soft drink in France. So this was my first encounter with the yellow concoction. The only bad thing about the drink was that it made me want to smoke. Because I never repress my urges (I’ve been told it’s bad for the child in you), I bought a cigarette (yes one cigarette and not one packet- you can do than in Kenya, just like in India) from Paul’s shop and went on to punish my lungs. It was a great feeling- Paul’s shop is at some height in Mugaa- to sit and look at the setting sun, with beautiful blue sky, dotted with small snow white clouds, cool breeze caressing my hair and skin and the smell of wood fire and food cooking in the air. I could see laughing people walking back with their cattle and women shopping at the little green grocers’. Old men sitting at the tea stall, sipping ‘chai’ with ‘mandazi’ and gossiping.

I felt at peace.

I felt one with the bloody universe!

The day after I decided to repeat the whole “one with the universe” experience and went for a walk up to Mugaa center. It was afternoon and Baba Joshua’s cow Kairu (which literally means ‘black’, guess why!) was near the gate of the school. Now Kairu is exceptionally fond of her calf. She is very particular about the time at which the calf should be fed. Like all mothers she becomes impatient when her child has to wait. But unlike many mothers, Kairu does not sing well. In fact, I sometimes suspect that Kairu has elephant genes. She is black (surprise!) and big and has large ears. But most important, she shrieks like a banshee from Arabian Nights who’s in labor. No wonder I kept asking everyone if there were any elephants around. While all the time it was Kairu talking.

That day she saw me walking towards the gate and thinking that I’m Baba Joshua (yes we do look quite alike, despite the vast differences in our our heights, colors, faces, hairstyles and ages) started howling her miserable entreaties. The whole situation was sad, I mean the mother yearning for her child, but her voice is so shrieky I couldn’t stop myself from laughing. Kairu took offence and I had to walk rather fast to get out.

Mugaa primary school had just closed and I came across a hoard of three year olds outside the gate. After answering a hundred ‘how are you’s, I started walking up, but the kids couldn’t get enough of me. They followed me, laughed at me, called me names and scared the daylight out of me. Children tend to depersonalize the object of their mirth. Having seen countless ‘clown bashing in birthday parties’ videos on TV, I kept my fingers crossed and breath held. Only after I entered a teashop did I let my guard down (which, in my case, was palms behind to stop any kicks to my posterior). Damn the universe. I will feel one in my room.

There were other things that happened, other interesting people I met, other adventures I suffered, like meeting the fascinated watchman, scaring the angry dog, sniffing the poisonous tomato and other such incidents. Later.

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